Do we need more 'flappable'?

It’s hard to find someone who cares at City Hall when no one is in charge

Someone -- all signs point to City Administrator Fred Russell -- was supposed to try to find private funding last year to help pay for a $500,000 citywide master plan now under way.


There's no reasonable answer as to why no one ever did -- Russell lamely says, "I've been a little busy" -- and why, therefore, taxpayers will be footing the entire bill.

In reality, if Augusta commissioners were expecting a sugar daddy to help pay for such a luxury in 2009 -- while many businesses were scratching to merely survive -- they were deluding themselves, as well as the public.

But to not even try to find a source of private funding -- when the meeting minutes clearly indicate that was the commission's wish -- means that someone dropped a pretty large ball.

Can you imagine dropping a $500,000 ball at work?

Russell is, by nature, a sanguine sort, a trait that has served both his survivability and his sanity in his prior life as a law enforcement officer and as the day-to-day city manager who reports to 11 bosses. But to say "I've been a little busy" is a little too unflappable for our taste.

Maybe we need a little more "flappable" at City Hall.

We certainly need more accountability in Augusta government.

The place is run by a 10-member commission, a mayor with no vote and a city administrator who only must stay on the good side of six of 10 commissioners to maintain employment -- and who, in our weak, diffuse form of government, isn't even trusted enough to hire and fire department heads.

Accountability rarely attaches, and when it does -- say, to a particular department head -- that person, too, serves at the pleasure of six of 10 commissioners. That sounds like it would enhance accountability, but in fact it only dilutes it.

On the rare occasion when a department head is, indeed, taken to task or even fired, it requires an unseemly political scene before the commission. Even then, accountability can be ephemeral: In the case of fired city engineer Teresa Smith, nobody bothered to make sure her personnel records reflected the reasons for her firing -- a bit of a problem when a firing is then litigated.

Everyone is in charge at City Hall, which means no one is.

"Everybody wants to be the boss," says one city official.

We would simply urge commissioners to consider ways to increase accountability at City Hall. Step 1 would be to get the city administrator hiring and firing authority. Step 2 would be to assign someone specific for the city administrator to answer to. He'll always answer to the commission as a whole, but it's difficult for groups to be accountable for such day-to-day tasks.

Commissioners need to understand that they can delegate accountability to others -- department heads, the city administrator, the mayor, whomever -- and still retain the authority they should rightly have.

But they need to understand that when everyone is in charge, no one is.